Tap Into All of Your Organization’s Assets for Superlative Grants
As published online by the Association of Fundraising Professionals: Too often, organizations sell themselves short in proposals. Here are some tips so that you “don’t hide your light under a bushel,” as the age-old proverb goes.
The Danger: Just as there are only so many variations on an apple pie recipe, there are only so many ways to deliver quality cultural or clinical programs. It is all too easy for a proposal to sound generic to a seasoned reader. Genericism is the enemy in a competitive grants process.
Go Beyond the Prerequisite: Strong writing is a prerequisite for a strong proposal, but it is only part of the equation. Yes, you will have your reader’s attention when you describe your apple pie in an intriguing and savory way—a “molten apple tart,” “Pink Lady apple galette,” or “warm apple crostata.” The other vital element is a strategic presentation of facts about your organization. Even an innovative project suffers when the ground has been poorly prepared for it. Preparing the Ground: Your organizational background section is your key to success. Too often, organizations waste this opportunity by throwing together a “laundry list” of achievements. A better way to go is to consider the background section your “thesis” about your agency. It represents your interpretation of your nonprofit’s activities over time. Aim for a vivid, comprehensive assessment that accomplishes the following:
Fleshes out your nonprofit’s origins
Reveals the value system that defines decisions
Teases out unifying themes across various programs
Traces significance relative to larger societal developments
Makes substantiated claims to uniqueness
Shares meaningful milestones
Points to future directions
Your job is to package your organization’s history and choices as a compelling narrative that brings its full range of assets into play.
Defining Your Assets: An asset is any strength that distinguishes your agency. Some of these assets are in plain view; others demand research. Below are some examples:
Vanguard activities: Your organization’s pioneering moments may be public knowledge or may have occurred behind the scenes. Use these to burnish your agency’s reputation and add to its “mystique.” One residential treatment center, for example, proudly notes that it was among the first in its state to allow young children to remain with their mothers in treatment (standard practice today).
Organizational culture: Your organization’s culture is defined in part by its expectations of employees. In Los Angeles, for example, one organization with a suicide hotline requires every single employee—clinician, accountant, receptionist—to undergo suicide intervention training. A CEO at one primary care center believes that activism is important across the hierarchy, exhorting his executives to drop their work occasionally to attend rallies in support of patients’ rights. These expressions of value will be of interest to prospective supporters.
Engagement of visitors or clients: Perhaps your agency exceeds expectations when it comes to the visitor experience or standard of care. The lengths to which it will go to re-engage clients or its long period of follow-up with program participants could be a significant strength.
Financial prowess: Budget growth is just one measure of financial stability. You could note that your nonprofit has never had to draw on its line of credit, acts as a fiscal agent for community partners, or has launched new lines of business successfully.
Original perspective: A CEO, board member, curator, outreach worker, or client may have perfectly captured your organization’s importance in a pithy comment. Find it!
Finding Your Assets: These examples just scratch the surface of the kinds of information you can surface about your nonprofit. There are troves of good material to find all around you—and online.
ASSET HUNT CHECKLIST
Ephemera (old flyers, program brochures)
Board meeting minutes
Compiled materials for reaccreditation
Transcripts of CEO speeches/interviews
Financial filings (especially audit notes)
Program tracking files
Social media posts
Employee honors and recognition
Google book searches
Once you know the full story about your organization, you can write a compelling history and description of programs. Moreover, you will be better prepared to tailor a narrative to reflect achievements in a particular area, depending on the prospective funder.